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What Happens When a BDSM Author Converts to Christianity

Jan 25 2016 4:30 PM
What Happens When a BDSM Author Converts to Christianity

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In 2015, erotica author Shoshanna Evers—whose prolific output included titles like "Enslaved" and "Held Captive By the Cavemen"—shocked fans by announcing that she was giving up the erotic romance trade after converting to Christianity.

After the school shootings at Sandy Hook, Idaho-based erotic romance author Shoshanna Evers, whose titles include The Man Who Holds the Whip, Enslaved and Held Captive by the Cavemen, had a come to Jesus moment—literally. Though she'd been raised Jewish and even practiced Orthodox Judaism, the novelist had been searching for a sign about which direction her faith should take—and she got it from reading the Bible, where, according to her, "numerous Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament...just jumped out at me like crazy." She soon began attending church with her husband, who also made the same religious switch, putting up her first Christmas tree in 2013.

While this revelation created changes in her personal life, Evers soon found that her newfound Christianity also affected her writing. Sex, which had been the basis of much of her fiction, had taken a backseat to other aspects of her characters' life journeys—in some cases, without her even noticing the change. In a November post entitled "Saying Goodbye to Erotic Romance," Evers outlined her religious awakening, her rejection of a six-book publishing deal because of its explicitly sexual bent and her new literary future as a Christian inspirational author.

She now considers herself a Jewish Christian, since she's "97 percent Ashkenazi Jewish," and has even changed her pen name to Shoshanna Gabriel to better represent her newfound religious-themed fiction.

In our interview, Evers detailed how she plans to incorporate faith into her fiction, the positive and negative reactions to her announcement from readers, and what new skills she'll have to learn as an inspiration author. (Full disclosure: the author has published four of Evers' stories in erotica anthologies she's edited.)

The author. Image via Shoshanna Gabriel.

Broadly: Did you have a goal with your writing when you started out?
Shoshanna Evers: I've always been an avid reader of books of all genres, and writing was just a natural offshoot of that for me. Like many authors, I've been writing my whole life. I have three page handwritten "books" from when I was eight years old that start with "Chapter One." I wrote my first short novel when I was 19, submitted the second novel I wrote to Harlequin, who promptly sent a form rejection, as they should have. For years I wrote books and set them aside because I wasn't ready for another rejection.

I got married at age 26, and after we had our son, my husband encouraged me to get published so I could stay home with our infant son instead of going back to work as an registered nurse. Since I had so much practice writing novels already, the first book I submitted to Ellora's Cave in 2010 ended up getting published, and I was on a roll from there, ultimately writing erotic romance for numerous publishers. It took me one year from the first published book to be able to quit my part-time nursing job and write from home full-time.

You blogged that as you got more involved with your church and Christianity, "my books were getting cleaner and more romance and character/plot focused than sex-focused." Was this a process you were aware of, or did others have to point it out?
You can tell exactly when God started coming on my mind more while I was writing the second book of the Pulse Trilogy, because Jenna has her own faith crisis. It's so mixed in with the erotica that no one even commented on it in reviews. In later books, I recognized that there was less profanity because I would stumble over four-letter words and end up deleting them. As for the sex aspect, reviewers had to point that out to me. I was unaware anything was changing. In fact, I wrote one story that I fully intended to be a dirty as can be ("This Might Hurt a Bit" from Skye Warren's Take the Heat anthology), and only after it was published did readers point out that the story actually contained zero sex. I literally had an erotic story published that had no consummating sex scene. By accident.

In my full length books, as I was writing I just found myself being less interested in what would happen in the bedroom between the hero and heroine, and more interested in what made them tick in other ways. That came out in the writing. For the stand-alone prequel to the Bear Creek Saddle series, I Am Not Your Melody, which I consider steamy cowboy romance but not erotic, there are great reviews, but also one one-star review that says: "Too sugar sweet for me. And steamy? Not so much in my opinion." I think I'd like to rewrite that book as intentionally "clean" and offer the sweet version for sale as well.

I literally had an erotic story published that had no consummating sex scene. By accident.

Your upcoming romance novels will have "a faith element." Can you elaborate on how faith will play a role? Do readers of Christian inspirational romances look for different plot elements than readers of secular romances?
The main reason I am ready to change directions is that I want to use my God-given gift for writing to glorify God, and I don't feel like I was doing that before. I think I've been holding back from writing the stories I wanted to write out of fear that I was turning what was supposed to be a secular romance into something "churchy." I want my heroes and heroines to pray, go to church, praise God, and quote Scripture without feeling as though I'm pushing my beliefs on my readers. If a book is clearly labeled as inspirational romance, then the reader will know what they're getting, just as they know when a book is labeled erotic romance what's in store. I'd also love to write a story where someone struggling with faith comes to know Jesus, so in that sense it would have more in-the-open faith elements, perhaps even some apologetics mixed in.

But ultimately, no one reads fiction to be preached to; we read for fun, entertainment, and escape. The story has to be wonderful—just as with any book an author wants people to actually read—with the faith element interwoven and not tacked on as an afterthought. At this point, I'm talking as a reader since I haven't yet had my Christian fiction published, or fully written.

I think all readers are looking for a great story, well told, whether they're secular or Christian. When a reader picks up a romance novel, they know there will be a happily ever after. For my erotic romances, my tagline was "Sexily *Evers* After." But when a reader picks up an inspirational romance, they know they'll be able to read a book without graphic sex, without profanity or gratuitous violence, or blasphemy. They also know that the book will have a faith-reaffirming theme along with the entertainment aspect. Christian romance novels are incredibly entertaining and extremely varied, just as secular romance is. There are niches and subgenres of Christian romance just as with secular romance. Though I had become accustomed to reading books with high levels of graphic sex and extreme language, I found myself enthralled with the stories being told in contemporary Christian romance novels. Now I've changed my tagline to "Faithfully Ever After" to show my intent to fulfill that promise for my readers.

When a reader picks up an inspirational romance, they know they'll be able to read a book without graphic sex, without profanity or gratuitous violence, or blasphemy.

Are the same skill sets involved in writing erotic romance versus inspirational romance?
Any successful author, regardless of genre, requires the ability to craft a well-plotted, well-paced, entertaining novel. They'll need to have the discipline to actually sit down and write and revise the novel. They'll need the basic skill sets of grammar, punctuation, syntax and spelling. An author writing erotic romance needs to have an affinity for writing the small details of intimate encounters to bring love scenes to life.

But I think familiarity with biblical principles and morals would be an additional skill set required for inspirational romance writers. Since I'm still a newbie, I already have some experts in mind to read my next manuscript when it's finished, and make sure it's biblical. Also—though I'm not sure if you'd consider this a skill set—apparently there is a "morality clause" in Christian publishing contracts that authors must sign promising that they won't behave in an immoral way in their personal life. No affairs, don't get arrested for a DUI—stuff like that, I imagine? I've been told by women in the industry that will probably also mean—for me— that I can no longer promote any of my Shoshanna Evers books. I would never deny that I wrote them: That's a huge part of my testimony. But I need to make a clean break from my past to make it clear I'm moving forward.

Photo via Nemanja Glumac / Stocksy.

You wrote that you were concerned about losing your readers, who've come to expect a certain element of sexuality from your books, yet the comments on your post are overwhelmingly supportive. Did this surprise you?
People who've commented on my blog post, emailed, Tweeted, and Facebook'd me have been extremely supportive and wonderful. It absolutely surprised me, because I was expecting a backlash, both from my readers and other authors. I feared my readers might call me a hypocrite, or ask if I was anti-feminist or homophobic or any of the other things some people assume Christians must be. I feared the Christian writing community would want to keep me at arm's length because of my publishing history. Instead, the love and support they have given me has been overwhelming. Truly amazing.

Quite a few of my readers have told me that they will stick with me and read my future books, which is such a blessing. One reader who especially enjoyed my sexier books said, "I'm sad for me, but so happy for you." Everyone has been incredible.

Of course, there have been a few cases where my erotic romance readers specifically told me they would not be reading my new books, because they've had bad experiences with Christians or religion. I can understand that. Christians are human and we are sinful people no matter how hard we try to not to sin. Jesus had some problems with religion and religious people as well and actually spoke against those who tried to follow the rule of a religion rather than focusing on God. Religion isn't the answer—Jesus is. For me, I was pro-religion, following all the rules, and thought Jesus was a false Messiah for most of my life. God has such a sense of humor! If He can change my mind, He can change anyone's.

You originally rejected the idea of changing your pen name, but have now taken on a new name for your inspirational romances. Why did you ultimately decide to change it?
Originally I didn't see much of a point in changing my name going forward to something other than Shoshanna Evers, since readers are technology savvy and will "find me out" either way. If I try to hide my past when it is so very public, then my past becomes a ticking bomb. My photo is all over the web and I've attended enough conventions and romance book signings throughout the years that I'm recognizable both online and in real life as Shoshanna Evers, so I know calling myself another name might be confusing for a while.

Still, I ended up deciding to start fresh as Shoshanna Gabriel. The main reason is there are no books written under that name, so new readers expecting Christian fiction won't pick up a backlist erotica book by mistake. Saul did change his name to Paul after what happened on the road to Damascus, after all. It will never be a secret, though, because this is my testimony to how dramatically God can change our hearts and our lives.

Saul did change his name to Paul after what happened on the road to Damascus, after all.

What's next for your writing?
Because of my dramatic change, I realized I couldn't publish the last book I'd originally planned on as Shoshanna Evers, even though it was already written. I wouldn't be able to promote it when it came out next year, and I feel like I'm just so ready to be done with Evers and move forward to being Shoshanna Gabriel!

So I'm excited to start writing Sins of Cain, which will be my first time writing a book with a Christian faith-based story arc in addition to the romance aspect. Knowing my writing style, it will be a bit edgy—but my goal is to keep it biblical and clean while still portraying the truth about some of the very real issues happening right here in the United States, and the hope and light that Christ can bring even in the darkest of situations. Here's a line from the blurb: "As the heroine, Sophia, finds new strength through God during the most frightening time of her life, Cain's firmly-held atheism is challenged by the changes he sees in her. How could the woman he holds captive...pray for him?"

At least, that's what I think the book will be. I have some upcoming appointments to talk with some publishers and agents in the Christian Bookseller Association world, so maybe someone will tell me that's overdone or too edgy, and if that's the case certain elements may change. The one thing that will not change is there will be an intensely emotional romance and faith interwoven through the story.

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